ESPN President John Skipper Asks On-Air Talent, Reporters ‘to Be Confident’ About Company’s Future

“I want you to feel proud about working here and I want you to feel that your best efforts are needed for that future and to feel that pride,” Skipper says during summit in Bristol

ESPN John Skipper
Melissa Rawlins/ESPN Images

ESPN President John Skipper held a summit with over 450 ESPN commentators, anchors and reporters on Wednesday to assure them of the company’s future following a year marked by declining subscriber numbers and multiple rounds of layoffs.

“At the end of this meeting I want you to be confident about the future of ESPN,” Skipper told the staff during the meeting at company headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, ESPN Front Row reported. “I want you to feel proud about working here and I want you to feel that your best efforts are needed for that future and to feel that pride.”

Skipper, along with Executive Vice President of Content Connor Schell, outlined ESPN’s recent accomplishments and future plans, including the streaming service set to launch in 2018 and plans to grow ESPN’s live rights portfolio.

“Everyone should understand how staggering what we all create is in terms of scope and scale and the fact that we do it at the quality that we do. You should take immense pride in that,” Schell continued, according to Front Row. “Between live studio content and live events we are producing seven and a half hours of live programming for every hour in a day.”

The summit, which was moderate by “SportsCenter” anchor Scott Van Pelt comes just two weeks after the network laid off 150 employees, marking ESPN’s third round of layoffs in two years. On-air talent was spared from November’s purge, but in back April, ESPN cut roughly 100 online journalists and on-camera personalities.

The network has also been impacted by declining subscriber numbers fueled by cord-cutting, which has posed a problem amid an era marked by ballooning sports rights fees.

ESPN was also in the news this year for the way it disciplined “SportsCenter” anchor Jemele Hill for a tweet calling President Trump a “white supremacist,” and it’s subsequent decision to rewrite the company’s social media policy.

That issue was also addressed by The Undefeated editor-in-chief Kevin Merida at Wednesday’s summit when he the company’s updated social media guidelines.

“ESPN is a journalistic organization — not a political organization. We should do nothing to undermine that position,” he said. “ESPN’s focus is sports. By-and-large we are not experts on politics, healthcare policies, terrorism, commerce — that’s not what we do.

“Our audience is not looking for our opinions on the general news of the day,” Merida added. “And believe me, I get it. It can sometimes be difficult to control impulses or ignore trolls, but that’s what we’re called to do for each other.”